Fresh fatalities as Syrians brave crackdown

Fresh fatalities as Syrians brave crackdown – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

More deaths reported as several towns witness renewed demonstrations against president Assad’s one-party rule.
Despite heavy-handedness by the security forces, protests have continued against the Assad regime. [REUTERS]

At least three people have been killed in Qatana, a suburb of the capital Damascus, after Syrian security forces used live fire to disperse hundreds of anti-government demonstrators, activists say.

According to Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr reporting from neighbouring Lebanon, there were also reports of five protesters being shot dead in Dael, a southern town located 10km from Deraa, and one other in Zabadani, a town not far from the Lebanese border.

The killings came amid renewed demonstrations after midday prayers on Friday, dubbed «day for the Guardians of the Homeland» by pro-democracy advocates in an effort to reach out to the army to join their 10-week uprising.

As prayers ended, demonstrations were reported to be taking place in Idlib, in the country’s north west, in Deir al-Zur in the north east, and in Qamishli, Amouda and Ras al Ain in the Kurdish areas in Syria’s north.

Bid to win over army

An eyewitness to the early morning attacks in Dael told Al Jazeera that the secret police opened fire on a crowd of around 3,000 locals who were returning to town from a peaceful march to the army barracks on the outskirts.

He said the crowd was chanting, «The people and army are one hand».

The march had passed off peacefully, until the secret police opened fire on the crowd as tanks entered the town, he said.

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Khodr, our correspondent, said the number of casualties had been low in comparison to previous Friday protests, «a sign that the Syrian government is realising that it cannot stop these protests by relying [only] on a security option» without dialogue.

She has been reporting from Beirut as Al Jazeera is banned from entering Syria.

She said pro-democracy activists viewed the latest protests as a success since people took to the streets in cities like Homs and Baniyas despite a military siege.

But the demonstrators did not achieve any of their goal, which was to «get the army to switch sides» and stop shooting at protesters, she said.

The fresh violence came amid a brutal military crackdown on protests, that have swept the country for weeks and shaken the one-party rule of president Bashar al-Assad.

More than a 1,000 people are believed to have been killed in the crackdown to date.

The harsh crackdown has triggered international outrage and US and European sanctions, including an EU assets freeze and a visa ban on Assad and nine members of his regime.

Amnesty International, the human rights group, has accused Syrian security forces of deliberately killing hundreds of demonstrators in the city of Deraa.

G8 shock over deaths

Group of Eight [G8] leaders attending a summit in France on Friday said they were «appalled» at the killing of peaceful protesters in Syria, and are considering «further measures» against the country.

«We are appalled by the deaths of many peaceful protesters as a result of the sweeping use of violence in Syria as well as by repeated and serious violations of human rights,» the leaders said in the communique on Friday.

But the statement refrained from an explicit proposal, contained in earlier drafts of the document obtained by the Associated Press, to act against Damascus in the UN Security Council.

Sarkozy echoed Obama’s call for Bashar al-Assad to make a choice: democracy or step down. [AFP]

Should the Syrian authorities not heed this call, we will consider further measures. We are convinced that only by implementing meaningful reforms will a democratic Syria be able to play a positive role in the region,» it said.

The shift in language to a vaguer threat of «further measures» may reflect reluctance from Russia, which has a veto in the Security Council.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy echoed US president Barack Obama’s call for Syrian leader Assad to lead a transition to democracy or to step down.

«President Assad now has a choice. He can lead that transition or get out of the way. The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests,» Sarkozy said on Friday at the end of the G8 summit in Deauville, France.

Both Russia and China have been reluctant to support any UN resolution condemning Syria. Russia has in the past accused NATO of going beyond their brief on the UN resolution in Libya.

More than 220 civil society organisations from across the Arab world appealed to the Security Council this week to adopt a resolution demanding an immediate end to the use of lethal force against protesters in Syria.

Al Jazeera and agencies

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